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Human Rights: A Commitment to Action

In democracies, respecting rights isn’t a choice leaders make day-by-day, it is the reason they govern.”
— Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Obama Administration is committed to promoting, supporting and defending human rights and democracy worldwide. Human rights are not only fundamental to American society, but are the birthright of all the world’s people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for governments and societies to guard their citizens’ basic freedoms and to offer them the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential.

Human rights, democracy, and development are interwoven and are key State Department priorities. Upholding democracy and liberty are part of the daily work of many Department Bureaus, but especially of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).

Acting to Advance Human Rights

  • The State Department conducts formal, systematic Human Rights Dialogues with various countries.
  • The Department advances the Administration’s engagement policy by talking to leaders in countries like Syria and Iran, and reaching out to bodies like the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
  • The State Department supports the efforts of regional organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Union that are strengthening their institutional capacities to combat human rights abuses.
  • Globally, the Department seeks to defend and promote human rights and democracy through the United Nations system. As a full member of the Human Rights Council, the U.S. works to enhance the constructiveness and objectivity of the Council. 
  • Complementing diplomatic efforts, DRL has vital programmatic tools for human rights and democracy promotion. It oversees $400 million in the Human Rights and Democracy Fund to support human rights and democracy programs around the globe. Funds go to U.S.-based NGOs working with international partners on innovative projects that build democracy.
  • DRL issues the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, and the Report on International Religious Freedom, all of which carefully evaluate the progress made and progress needed of human rights and democracy worldwide.
  • The Office of International Labor and Corporate Social Responsibility promotes labor rights through a variety of mechanisms, including through membership in the International Labor Organization.

The Administration’s Approach to Human Rights

Accountability – A commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and with holding everyone accountable to those standards, including ourselves.

Principled Pragmatism Promoting human rights requires pragmatism and agility, not compromising on principles, but doing what is most likely to bring practical results.

Partnering at All Levels – The U.S. supports change driven by citizens and their communities and encourages and provides support for local grassroots human rights leaders. We also partner with multilateral and regional institutions to secure human rights.

A Wide Focus – Positive change must be reinforced and strengthened over time. Where human lives hang in the balance, the U.S. will do all it can to tilt situations toward a future of hope and dignity.

U. S. Department of State • Bureau of Public Affairs  www.state.gov


Tracking Human Rights Worldwide: The State Department Country Reports

“We stand for democracy not because we want other countries to be like us, but because we want all people to enjoy the consistent protection of the rights that are naturally theirs, whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran.”

— U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

The values the United States embraces – the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – are grounded in a universal truth. They are not an American inheritance, but are the birthright of every woman, man, and child.

Country Reports on Human Rights

What’s new about the Country Reports this year?

  • Reporting on prison conditions reflects new legislation for assistance to governments that make progress on improving prison conditions
  • Reporting on countries’ initiatives to expand press freedom and their results
  • Broader coverage of child soldiers
  • Expanded coverage of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons, as well as a section on “Other Societal Discrimination” covering persons with HIV/AIDS

The Country Reports are an essential element of the U.S. effort to promote respect for human rights worldwide. They inform U.S. government policymaking and may serve as a reference to other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders and journalists. The Country Reports aim to advance worldwide efforts to end abuses, to help strengthen the capacity of countries to protect the human rights of all, and to shine a spotlight on countries that fail to live up to international human rights standards.

The Country Reports assess each country’s situation independently against universal human rights precepts and each Country Report is intended to stand on its own. They are not compared to each other or placed in any order other than alphabetically by region.

Human Rights in the United States

America’s open, democratic system allows U.S. citizens and people abroad to comment on U.S. policies without fear. The American system of government is not infallible; it is accountable. The U.S. democratic system provides a variety of self-correcting mechanisms, such as a robust civil society, a vibrant free media, independent branches of government – including the courts – and a well established rule of law.

The focus of the Country Reports is on the human rights performance of other governments. However, the U.S. does examine its own human rights record in periodic reports required by treaties to which it is a party. For example, the U.S. reports to a range of UN bodies, including the Committee Against Torture, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the Human Rights Council.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process is a unique way of evaluating the human rights records of each of the 192 UN Member States once every four years. The United States human rights record will be reviewed in December of 2010 based on a report submitted by the U.S. Government as well as input from civil society organizations.


United States Assistance for Roma Issues

The United States has committed to a variety of tools in promoting the success of Roma.

One such tool is development assistance, and we currently undertake Roma-focused programs across Central and Eastern Europe.

  • For example, our Roma education program in Macedonia provides preschool education for 250 children each year and has provided tutoring and out-of-school support to 1,500 primary school students. So far, 95 percent of these students have remained in school.
  • In Slovakia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Serbia, we provide Romani communities and leaders with training to help them more effectively take part in elections and political processes.
  • This summer, we will be launching a new initiative to provide Roma with better access to legal services in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia.


Another way we work to promote Roma rights is through international visitor programs, which have provided Roma from across Europe opportunities to visit and study in the U.S. to gain a firsthand view of how the rights of every individual can be ensured both in law and in practice.

  • Recent programs have focused on social, political and economic empowerment for Roma from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania.
  • In August, we welcomed 24 Romani high school students for a month-long exchange emphasizing self-respect, community development and minority advocacy, and we will soon be embarking on a similar exchange for Romani political leaders from countries including Italy and Slovakia.


One further aspect of promoting Roma rights is helping to facilitate constructive interaction between law enforcement and minority communities.

· At the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, we provide training and assistance to police to help them more effectively investigate and prosecute crimes against Roma.

· Following a string of unsolved killings of Roma in Hungary last year, the Hungarian government asked for investigative support from the F.B.I., which we were pleased to provide.

The U.S. Government stands ready to explore similar forms of assistance to governments in the future.

Further information on U.S. efforts to assist Roma can be found on the State Department’s website at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/hr/race/index.htm.


Disclaimer: The Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State manages this site as a portal for international human rights related information from the United States Government. External links to other internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.